Sunday, October 30, 2016

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Recent blog posts

Lab visitors 1 - Nathalie Peyrard (INRA, Toulouse, France)

Posted by Michaela Plein on in visitors
In our group we like collaborating with other researchers from all over the world and frequently they come to visit sunny Brisbane. In a new series of blogs we will introduce our visitors to you and interview them about themselves. First off was Nathalie Peyrard from Toulouse in France. She payed us a short visit to discuss existing and potential new collaborations with Eve and others. Below she tells us a little bit about herself and if you'd like to find out more checkout her homepage
What do you do for a living?
I’m a researcher in France at INRA, the French Institute for Agricultural Research and I study spatial statistics and spatial decisions and I try to use these tools to work on applications for optimally managing
in agroecology and conserving biodiversity. 
What is your background?
My background is in applied mathematics. Before being at INRA I worked on image analysis and video analysis. We were developing a new method for detecting changes in a video with the final application being to detect advertisement in video recordings to be able to remove those advertisements automatically. For example when you watch football games there will sometimes be advertisement break, which interrupt the game and this tool removed these break automatically. 
Why are you visiting us? 
The connection between our lab in Toulouse and your lab here is strong. Our current collaboration is on food web management questions, food web learning questions and I’ve been talking with Eve and others about potential new collaborations.
And did you achieve that? 
I have discussed projects with many researchers and students here and some are closely related to the questions that we work on in Toulouse. Questions on landscape management, and food web learning from sampled data.
What do you particularly like about working with the group?
I like that the ecologists here are not afraid of working with simple models, in particular they are not afraid of simplifying the complex mechanisms of their systems to find management solutions.
What was the most memorable moment during you visit? 
I like that some of my meetings here happened outside with a coffee in the nice scenery of the campus. At INRA we usually meet inside closed meeting rooms, but it’s nice to talk about science outside in the sun where the bush turkeys forage around you. 
What would you be doing if you weren’t in science? 
I’ve asked myself this question sometimes, but I can never find an answer. I guess I really like what I’m doing. 
What is the weirdest thing about Australia? 
Maybe that they drive on the left?
Thanks Nathalie for visiting us, it was great to have you over and hear about your interesting research. 
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Resident conservation scientists at SCBO 2016 in Brisbane

Posted by Michaela Plein on in conferences

Around the middle of the year, southern-hemisphere researchers commonly migrate north to more suitable habitats exchanging ideas and maybe a drink with their northern-hemisphere counterparts. This year an unusual reversion of this pattern about to happen. The regional meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania (SCBO) brings conservation scientist to remain in their southern habitats, where they are meeting in the Brisbane Convention and Entertainment Centre from the 6th to the 8th of July. 


We are pleased to announce that our group will contribute four presentations to SCBO2016, all of them on Wednesday, July 6th.


Two of our PhD candidates, Paypal and Hernán, will present their research in Poster Session 1 in the Foyer. From 4-6pm you can get a drink at the bar and chat to them about their work.


Paypal Bal

Cost-effective triggers for managing multiple threats: an indicator selection framework


Hernán Caceres

Examining multi-stakeholder approaches to conservation



At (almost) competing times Michaela and Matt are talking about their research. If you plan ahead and find the quickest path between both rooms you’ll be able to listen to both of them.


Michaela Plein

10:20 in Room P6 (session: population dynamics)

Ecological communities are more robust to cascading extinctions than expected from observations.


Matthew H Holden 

10:40 in Room P9 (session: spatial ecology and conservation)

The value of economic information for conserving poached species


Tagged in: conference conservation Oceania SCBO2016
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Planning a conservation project - What are objectives?

Posted by Michaela Plein on in Group discussions

By Michaela Plein

This week’s group meeting involved a discussion about chapter 3 in Conservation Planning: Informed Decisions for a Healthier Planet by Craig Groves and Edward Game. The chapter explains the authors’ understanding about objectives in a conservation project and why they think it is important to establish objectives early in the planning process. To paraphrase the authors, objectives are those outcomes of a conservation planning process that the stakeholders want and care about, including the direction in which the outcome should move. There are different types of objectives, but they are always driven by our personal values.

The most important type of objectives are fundamental objectives - those final results that the planning process is supposed to achieve. For example, one fundamental objective for the establishment of a national park could be the protection of biodiversity. To each project there will be a suite of different fundamental objectives representing the values of different stakeholders. Some of these will concern the environment, while other objectives can have social and economic goals. A good conservation plan will include fundamental objectives from each of these categories.

In addition to fundamental objectives, there will be a range of intermediate objectives which relate to the actions that are undertaken to achieve the fundamental objectives. Often people will mistake intermediate objectives for fundamental ones; it is therefore important to separate between the ‘ends’ (where we want to be) from the ’means’ (how we want to get to the goal). The authors give the example of a conservation plan for a fores:, when managers want to “improve forest connectivity”, they might think that connectivity is the objective of the plan, while it is actually just a way to approach the fundamental goal of protecting the forest ecosystem.

A fact that was interesting to several of us is that objectives can be quite vague, very much in contrast with the highly specific objectives in mathematical optimisation, which we are quite familiar with. Conservation planning objectives don’t require temporal, spatial or species limitation etc.; this is done later when we set targets or features, which have to be defined clearly so they can be measured quantitatively.

Given our groups efficiency, we didn’t stop at discussing the nature of objectives, but also tried to come up with a group exercise for students in a conservation decision science class so they could clearly grasp the concept of fundamental objectives. Potential avenues that came up:

  • establishing a grocery shopping schedule for a shared house
  • washing the dishes 
  • planning a dinner
  • developing the class’ grading scheme 
  • designing the homework for the next week
  • deciding on a meeting venue for the next class

Finding a solution to these tasks as a group should in theory expose students to each others’ fundamental objectives. Their objectives will likely differ unless they all just want to eat cheap pasta and maximize their spare time, which would make the discussion fairly brief - let’s hope for the best.

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Planning a conservation project - part 1

Posted by Michaela Plein on in Group discussions

By Christopher O'Bryan

As part of a lab-wide exercise, we are discussing the book Conservation Planning: Informed Decisions for a Healthier Planet by Craig Groves and Edward Game. The book, published in 2015, has recently been accepted as teaching material at the University of California, Davis.

The first chapter sets the scene for conservation planning, including its rationale, values, history, and different types of planning. The second chapter, our main focus today, goes over the context of planning, the importance of team composition and leadership, and a road map to conservation planning. We discussed the complexity of conservation planning in government and non-government organizations, including the pitfalls of planning too long for a conservation outcome.

Eve, who has held several decision-making workshops, talked about the importance of a good leadership in keeping multiple stakeholders involved in a planning process. She also discussed the importance of stakeholders rethinking their mental models to avoid “anchoring” their opinions (i.e., anchoring describes the human tendency to stick to initial beliefs even though these might be inferior to the optimal strategy). Finally, we discussed ideas regarding the funding of conservation plans, and the evolution of funding sources throughout history.

As we will continue working our way through this book, we aim to familiarise our group members, who have diverse backgrounds in ecology, conservation and astrophysics, with conservation planning from the eyes of managers and project planners.

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